Bolus isoproterenol infusions provide a reliable method for assessing interoceptive awareness

Int J Psychophysiol. 2009 Apr;72(1):34-45. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2008.08.010. Epub 2008 Sep 27.


Interoception, defined as the perception of internal body states, plays a central role in classic and contemporary theories of emotion. In particular, deviations from baseline body states have been hypothesized to be integral to the experience of emotion and feeling. Consequently, reliable measurement of interoception is critical to the testing of emotion theories. Heartbeat perception tasks have been considered the standard method for assessing interoceptive awareness, primarily due to their non-invasive nature and technical feasibility. However, these tasks are limited by the fact that above chance group performance rates on heartbeat detection (or the frequency of 'good detectors') are rarely higher than 40%, meaning that such tasks (as they are typically utilized) do not obtain a measure of interoceptive awareness in the majority of individuals. Here we describe a novel protocol for inducing and assessing a range of deviations in body states via bolus infusions of isoproterenol, a non-selective beta adrenergic agonist. Using a randomized, double-blinded, and placebo-controlled experimental design, we found that bolus isoproterenol infusions elicited rapid and transient increases in heart rate and concomitant ratings of heartbeat and breathing sensations, in a dose-dependent manner. Our protocol revealed changes in interoceptive awareness in all 15 participants tested, thus overcoming a major limitation of heartbeat detection tasks. These findings indicate that bolus isoproterenol infusions provide a reliable method for assessing interoceptive awareness, which sets a foundation for further investigation of the role of interoceptive sensations in the experience of emotion.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Awareness / drug effects*
  • Awareness / physiology
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Emotions / drug effects*
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Infusions, Intravenous / methods
  • Isoproterenol / administration & dosage*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Online Systems
  • Psychophysics
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sympathomimetics / administration & dosage*
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult


  • Sympathomimetics
  • Isoproterenol